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[ 289 ] 


Obfervattons intended to favour a fuppojttion that the Black 
Color (as it is called) of the Negroes is derived from the 
Leprosy. By Dr. Benjamin Rush. 

ReadataSpeciiJMeet."r\R- SMITH in his elegant and ingc- 
ing July 14, i79»- JL/ nious Eflky upon the Variety of Co- 
lor and Figure in the Human Species has derived it from 
four caufes, viz. climate, diet, ftate of fociety, and 
difeafes. I admit the Dodlor's fadls, and reafonings as 
far as he has extended them, in the fuUeft manner. 1 fhall 
only add to them a few obfervations which are intended 
to prove that the color and figure of that part of our fel- 
low creatures who are known by the epithet of negroes, 
are derived from a modification of that difeafe, which is 
known by the name of Leprofy. 

Many fadts recorded by hiftorians, as well as phyficians 
fhow the influence of unwholfome diet in having produc- 
ed the leprofy in the middle and northern parts of Europe 
in the 13th and 14th centuries. The fame caufe, com- 
bined with greater heat, more favage manners, and bili- 
ous fevers, probably produced this difeafe in the fkin 
among the natives of Africa. But I will not reft the 
proofs of the color and figure of the negroes being a le- 
profy fimply upon its caufes. Other circumftances make 
it much more probable. I fhall briefly enumerate them. 

I. The leprofy is accompanied in fome inftances with 
a black color of the (kin. Of this I have met with a 
fatisfadory proof in Dr. Theiry's account of the difeafes 
of Afturia in Spain. I fhall infert a tranflation of his own 
words upon this fubjed. " There are (fays this excellent 
phyfician) above twenty hofpitals for lepers in this pro- 
vince, and I have obferved fix fpecies of the diforder. 

Q^q One 

ago On the BLACK COLOR 

One of them, viz. the fecond, is called the Hack albaras 
of the Arabians. The Ikin becomes black, thick and 
greafey. — There are neither puftules, nor turbercles, nor 
fcales, nor any thing out of the way on the Ikin. The 
body is not in the leaft emaciated. The breathing is a 
little difficult, and the countenance has fome fiercenefs in 
it. They exhale perpetually a peculiar and difagreeable 
fmell, which I can compare to nothing but the fmell of 
a mortified limb."* This fmell mentioned by Dr. Theiry 
continues with a fmall modification in the native African 
to this day. 

2. The leprofy is defcribed in the Old Teftament, and 
by many ancient writers as imparting a preternatural white- 
nefs to the fkin. Perfons thus niarked, have lately re- 
ceived the name of alhanos. Solitary inftances of this 
difeafe are often met with it upon the Alps, but travellers 
tell us that it is one of the endemics of Jaya, Guinea and 
Panama where it is perpetuated through many generations. 
Mr. Hawkins in his travels into the interior parts of Africa 
has defcribed the perfons afflided with this difeafe in the 
following words. " They ga entirely naked ; their Ikin 
is white, but has not that animated appearance fo percep- 
tible in Europeans. It has a dull deathlike whitifh caft 
that conveys an idea more of ficknefs, than of health. 
Their hair is red, or afhes-coloured, yellowifh wool, 
and their eyes are uniformly white, in that part by which 
others are diftinguifhed into the black, grey and blue 
eyes. They are ^t deep in the head, and very common- 
ly fquint, for as their Ikln is deprived of the black muc- 
ous web, the diftinguifhing charadteriftic of thefe Afri- 
cans, fo their eyes are deftitute of that black matter re- 
fembling a pigment, fo univerfally found in people of all 

* Obfervations de Phyfique et de Medecine faites en diiferens lieux de 
fEfpagne. Vol. ii. p. 130. 


Of thb NEGR0E6. 291 

countries, and fo ufeful in preventing the eye from being in- 
jured in cafes of expofure to ftrong light."* This artlefs 
traveller does not flop here. The idea of this peculiarity 
in the color and features of thefe people being a difeafe, and 
even its fpecific nature did not efcape him, hence he adds 
" Thefe people rendered unfortunate by the prejudices of 
their countrymen, are born of black parents; they have 
all the features of other inhabitants, but differ from them 
only in the above circumftances. The difference of color 
cannot arife from the intercourfc of w^hites and blacks, 
for the whites are very rarely among them, and the re- 
fult of this union is well known to be the yellow color, 
or mulatto. Many of the natives affcrt that they are 
produced by the women being debauched in the woods 
by the large baboon, ourang-outang, and by that fpecies 
in particular called the guaga mooroos. No fatisfafftory 
difcovery has been made to account for fuch fingukr, but 
not unfrequent phaenomena in the fpecies. It may per- 
haps be afcribed to difeafe^ and that of the leprous kind, 
with more reafon than to any other caufe that has been 
yet affigned."f Mr. Bernardin concurs with Mr. Haw- 
kins in afcribing this morbid whitencfs in the fkins of the 
Africans wholly to the leprofy.:}: However oppofed it 
may be to their morbid bkcknefs, it is in ftri£l conformi- 
ty to the operations of nature in other difeafes. The 
fame ftate of malignant fever is often marked by oppofite 
colors in the f^ools, by an oppofite temperature of the 
Ikin, and by oppoiite ftates of the alimentary canal. 

The original connection of the black color of the ne- 
groes with the leprofy is further fuggefted by the follovnng 
fad taken from Bougainville's voyage round the world.§ 

* P. 116. 117. 
t P. 117. 118. 

X Studies of Nature, vol, ii. p. 2. 
\ Page* 294. 

Q^q 2 He 

292 On the black COLOR 

He tells us that on an ifland in the Pacific Ocean which he 
vifited, the inhabitants were compofed of negroes and mu- 
lattoes. They had thick lips, woolly hair, and were fome- 
times of a yellowifli color. They were ihort, ugly, ill 
proportioned, and moft of them infeded with the leprofy, 
a circumftance from which he called the ifland they inha- 
bit, the Ifle of Lepers. 

3. The leprofy fometimes appears with white and black 
fpots blended together in every part of the body. A pic- 
ture of a negro man in Virginia in whom this mixture of 
white and black had taken place, has been happily preferv- 
ed by Mr. Peale in his mufeum. 

4. The leprofy induces a morbid infenfibility in the 
nerves. In countries where the difeafe prevails, it is com- 
mon to fay that a perfon devoid of fenfibility, has no more 
feeling than a leper. This infenfibility belongs in a pecu- 
liar manner to the negroes. Dr. Mofeley fays, '* they are 
void of fenfibility to a furprizing degree. They fleep found 
in every difeafe, nor does any mental difturbance ever keep 
them awake. They bear furgical operations much better 
than white people, and what would be a caufe of infup- 
portable pain to a white man, a negro would almofl: difre- 
gard. I have amputated the legs of many negroes, who 
have held the upper part of the limb themfelvcs."* This 
morbid infenfibility in the negroes difcovers itfelf further in 
the apathy with which they expofe themfelves to great 
heat, and the indifference with which they handle coals of 

5. Lepers are remarkable for having ftrong venereal defires. 
This is univerfal among the negroes, hence their uncom- 
mon fruitfulnefs when they are not deprefiTed by flavery j 
but even flavery in its worft ftate does not always fubdue 
the venereal appetite, for after whole days, fpent in hard 

* Treatife upon Tropical Difcafes, p, 475. 


Of the negroes. 293 

labor in a hot fun in the Weft Indies, the black men often 
walk five or fix miles to comply with a venereal affigna- 

6. The big lip, and flat nofe fo univerfal among the ne- 
groes, are fymptoms of the leprofy. 1 have more than 
once feen them in the Pennfylvania hofpital. 

7. The woolly heads of the negroes cannot be accounted 
for from climate, diet, ftate of fociety, or bilious difeafes, 
for all thofe circumftances, when combined have not pro- 
duced it in the natives of Afia and America who inhabit 
fimilar latitudes. Wool is peculiar to the negro. Here 
the proofs of fimilarity in the fymptoms of leprofy, and in 
the peculiarities of the negro body appear to fail, but there 
is a fad; in the hiftory of the leprofy which will probably 
throw fome light upon this part of our fubje£t. The Tri- 
choma, or Plica Polonica of the I'oles is a fymptom of le- 
profy. This is evident not only from the caufes which 
originally produced it, but from its fymptoms as defcribed 
in a late publication by F. L. De La Fontaine.* From this 
fa£t it would feem that the leprofy had found its way to the 
covering of the head, and from the variety of its effeds up- 
on the {kin, I fee no difficulty in admitting that it may as 
readily have produced wool upon the head of a negro, as 
matted hair upon the head of the Poles. 

But how fhall we account for the long duration of this co- 
lor of the ikin through fo many generations and even ages ? 
— 1 anfwer — i. That the leprofy is the moft durable in its 
defcent to pofterity, and the moft indeftrudable in its na- 
ture of any difeafe we are acquainted with. In Iceland Dr. 
Van Troil tells us, it often difappears in the fecond and 
third, and appears in the fourth generation.f adly. No 
more happens here than what happens to many nations 

* Surgical and medical treatifes upon various fubjefts refpe<aing Poland. 
t-L.etters on Iceland, p. 122. •^ o 


294 On the black COLOR 

who are dillinguifhed by a peculiarity of figure, in any part 
of the body. Many of the inhabitants of the highlands of 
Scotland, have the fame red hair, and the fame high cheek 
bones which are afcribed to their anceftors by Tacitus after 
the invafion of Britain. Even the tumors in the throat in the 
Cretins who inhabit the Alps, are tranfmitted from father 
to fon, through a long fuiceflion of generations. Madnefs, 
and confumption in like manner are hereditary in many fa- 
milies, both of which occupy parts of the body, much more 
liable to change in fucceffive generations, than the (kin. 

Should it be objeded to this theory that the leprofy is 
an infedious diforder, but that no inteclious quality exifts 
in the Ikin of the negro, I would reply to fuch objection by 
remarking in the firft place, that the leprofy has in a great 
degree ceafed to be infedious, more efpecially from con- 
tad, and fecondly that there are inftances in which fome- 
thing like an infedious quality has appeared in the fkin of 
a negro. A white woman in North Carolina not only ac- 
quired a dark color, but feveral of the features of a negro, 
by marrying and living with a black hulband. A fimilar 
inftance of a change in the color and features of a woman in 
Buck's county in Pennfylvania has been obferved and from 
a fimilar caufe. In both thefc cafes, the women bore chil- 
dren by their black hufbands. 

It is no objedion to the theory I have attempted to efta- 
blilh, that the negroes arc as healthy, and long lived as the 
white people. Local difeafes of the Ikin feldom afFed the 
general health of the body, or the duration of human life. 
Dr. Theiry remarks that the itch, and even the leprofy, 
did not impair longevity in thofe people who lived near 
the fea-fhore in the healthy climate of Galicia.* 

The fads and principles which I have delivered, lead to 
the following refledions. 

* V'ol. II. p. 171. 

I. That 


1. That all the claims of fuperiority of the whites over 
the blacks, on account of their color, are founded alike in 
ignorance and inhumanity. If the color of the negroes be 
the effed of a difeafe, inftead of inviting us to tyrannife 
over them, it Ihould entitle them to a double portion of our 
humanity, for difeafe all over the world has always been 
the fignal for immediate and univerfal compaffion. 

2. Thefafts and principles which have been delivered, 
fhould teach white people the neceflity of keeping up that 
prejudice againft fuch connexions with them, as would 
tend to infedl pofterity with any portion of their diforder. 
This may be done upon the ground 1 have mentioned with- 
out offering violence to humanity, or calling in queftion 
the famenefs of defcent, or natural equality of mankind. 

3. Is the color of the negroes a d!feafe ? Then let fcience 
and humanity cpmbine their efforts, and endeavour to 
difcover a remedy for it. Nature has lately unfurled a 
banner upon this fubjedt. She has begun fpontaneous 
cures of this difeafe m feveral black people in this country. 
In a certain Henry Mofs who lately travelled through 
this city, and was exhibited as a fhow for money, the 
cure was nearly complete. The change from black to a 
natural white flelh color began about five years ago at the 
ends of his fingers, and has extended gradually over the 
greatefl part of his body. The wool which formerly 
perforated the cuticle has been changed into hair. No 
change in the diet, drinks, drefs, employments, or fitua- 
tion of this man had taken place previoufly to this change 
in his fkin. But this fadt does not militate againfl arti- 
ficial attempts to diflodge the color in negroes, any more 
than the fpontaneous cures of many other difeafes mili- 
tate againfl the ufe of medicine in the pradice of phyfic. 
To dired our experiments upon this fubjedt I fhall throw 
out the following fads. 

I. In- 

296 On the black COLOR 

1. In Henry Mofs the color was firft difcharged from 
the fkin in thofe places, on which there was moft preffure 
from cloathing, and moft attrition from labor, as on the 
trunk of his body, and on his fingers. The deftrudtion 
of the black color was probably occafioned by the abforp- 
tion of the coloring matter of the rete mucofum , or per- 
haps of the rete mucofum itfelf, for preffure and fri<ftion 
it is well known aid the abforbing adion of the lymphatics 
in every part of the body. It is from the latter caufe, 
that the palms of the hands of negro women who fpend 
their lives at a wafliing tub, are generally as fair as the 
palms of the hands in labouring white people. 

2. Depletion, whether by bleeding, purging, or abfti- 
nence has been often obferved to leffen the black color in 
negroes. The effects of the above remedies in curing the 
common leprofy, fatisfy me that they might be ufed with 
advantage in that ftate of leprofy which I conceive to cx- 
ift in the fkin of the negroes. 

3. A fimilar change m the color of the negroes, though 
of a more temporary nature, has often been obferved in 
them from the influence of fear. 

4. Dr. Beddoes tells us that he has difcharged the color 
in the black wool of a negro by infufing it in the oxyge- 
nated muriatic acid, and leffened it by the fame means in 
the hand of a negro man. The land-cloud of Africa call- 
ed by the Portuguefe Ferrino Mr. Hawkins tells us has a 
peculiar a£tion upon the negroes in changing the black 
color of their fkins to a dufky grey.* Its aftion is ac- 
companied, he fays, with an itching and prickling fenfation 
upon every part of the body which increafes with the 
length of expofure to it fo as to be almoft intolerable. It 
is probably air of the carbonic kind, for it uniformly ex- 
tinguifties fire. 

5. A 

* p. 120. 121. 

Of the negroes. sp; 

5. A citizen of Philadelphia upon whofe veracity I 
have perfe£l reliance,* aflured me that he had once feen 
the fkin of one fide of the cheek inclining to the chin, 
and of part of the hand in a negro boy, changed to a 
white color by the juice of unripe peaches (of which he 
ate a large quantity every year) falling, and refting fre- 
quently upon thofe parts of his body. 

To encourage attempts to cure this difeafe of the flcin 
in negroes, let us recoiled that by fucceeding in them, 
we fliall produce a large portion of happinefs in the world. 
We Ihall in the firft place deftroy one of the arguments 
in favor of enflaving the negroes, for their color has been 
fuppofed by the ignorant to mark them as objeds of di- 
vine judgments, and by the learned to qualify them for 
labor in hot, and unwholfome climates. 

Secondly, We fhall add greatly to their happinefs, for 
however well they appear to be Satisfied with their color, 
there are many proofs of their preferring that of the 
white people. 

Thirdly, Wc fhall render the belief of the whole hu- 
man race being defcended from one pair, eafy, and uni- 
verfal, and thereby not only add weight to the Chriftian 
revelation, but remove a material obftacle to the exercife 
of that univerfal benevolence which is inculcated by it. 

June 17, 1797. 

* Mr. Thomas Harrifon. 

R r ^n